A distinct subgenre of heavy metal called “folk metal” has developed over the past few decades. Spawning from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the mid ’80s in Europe, the harmonies and melodies of power metal, were combined with traditional instrumental folk music to create a visceral, nature-based sound. We use the term “folk metal” to describe several different offshoots of metal that are influenced by Celtic, Medieval, and even Nordic themes.
This type of extreme music is often inspired by Paganism, the elements, and folklore. Musically, one can hear traces of death metal, black metal, progressive, industrial, ambient, experimental and doom metal all within one song. Bands often take listeners on musical journeys that come to life with epic, thunderous and pulsating music, full of vivid descriptions and tales of evil creatures, pirates, Vikings, enchanted kingdoms, ancient mythology and warfare. What began in Europe has spread all over the globe, as folk metal bands come from nearly every country on the planet where there is heavy metal. We now present our list of the 10 Best Folk Metal Bands.
See also: The 10 Best Metal Albums of 2013
This is a band that managed to create yet another self-proclaimed subgenre within folk metal, known as ‘Scottish Pirate Metal.’ The band’s use of accordions, and a very jolly, drunken sound truly gives listeners the experience of a heavy metal version of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. With anthemic, upbeat and energetic music, the band’s adventures at sea are chronicled in three albums, Captain Morgan’s Revenge (2008) Black Sails At Midnight (2009) and 2011’s Back Through Time.
Blackguard began its career in Montreal, Canada, as a straight black metal band, but evolved to use Scandinavian classical folk music to create a unique approach with a melodic death metal twist. Known from 2001 to 2004 as PROFUGUS MORTIS, the band performed among the death metal scene in Canada with such bands as Kataklysm and Cryptopsy. After changing the name to Blackguard, the band released several albums, including Profugs Mortis (2009), and Firefight (2011).
For 16 years, this Portland, Oregon band has been reinventing a sound that combines so many diverse genres, including ambient noise, doom metal black metal neo folk and rock. The band’s 2002 album, The Mantle is regarded by many as a doom metal infused, psychedelic, avant garde experimental black metal opus, and fans and artists today remain at awe with its ability to transcend genres. The band is known for especially emotional, abstract and cathartic live shows.
While many folk metal bands began as metal bands who incorporate folk music into their sound, Korpiklaani is the exception; having formed as a folk band known as Shaman in 1993, and eventually changed the name of the band in 2002. The music is dedicated to wilderness, having a good time and drinking beer, and the band uses instruments such as violins, accordions, piano and guitars to create a rather cheerful, energetic and up beat blend of power, metal, thrash and folk that fans have come to adore. Karkelo, the band’s fifth full-length album from 2009, translates to ‘party’ in English, and is full of booze guzzling, dancing and party time vibes.
Originally created as a side project, the band was formed by guitarist, and vocalist Jari Mäenpää from Ensiferum. Wintersun took folk metal to another level. Using a foundation of classical influenced melodic speed metal, intertwined with the ancient acoustic guitar driven folk music, Wintersun’s edgier, forthright approach has become a staple among neo classical folk, and extreme metal fans worldwide. A mixture of progressive keyboard playing hidden within a fierce technical style of death metal, Wintersun focus images of cold, icy winter landscapes, darkness and ancient sorcery. The band took an extended hiatus after it released its self-titled debut album in 2004, until 2008. It’s most recent album, Time I (2012) showcases a level of technicality and musicianship many in the folk metal scene aspire to.
This band was conceived in 2002 in Switzerland, and is part of a self-proclaimed new wave of folk metal. Skillfully merging Swedish death metal, including brutal vocals, with the sounds of Celtic folk instruments such as fiddles, flutes and bag pipes, the band has created its own unique approach to folk metal that has caught on and earned the band a dedicated base of fans. The band writes some lyrics in English, and some in a now extinct Celtic language known as Gaulish. Lyrical themes center around ancient tales of Celtic Gods.
Turisas, from Finland, has very domineering sound that takes the heaviness of metal and mixes in violins and keyboards of Finnish folk music to create a triumphant, fist pumping sound often referred to as ‘Battle Metal,’ named after the band’s 2004 debut album of the same name. Triumphant and full of force, the band’s music grips listeners by the throat, with albums and live performances that are beyond epic. Makes sense for a band named after an ancient Finnish God of War. Turisas play a symphonic power metal that could be a soundtrack to wars fought by ancient Nordic Vikings, or soldiers in medieval times.
Refusing to be limited to only folk and metal, Ulver formed in 1994, in Norway, with a more dissonant, dark, black metal sound, but evolved to become an innovative, genre defying band that would use cellos, ambient drums, chanting and even atmospheric, dreamy elements of , electronic, and experimental . The band’s debut album from 1995, ‘Bergtatt- Et eeventyr I 5 capitler’ and third album from 1997, Nattens Madrigal, both offer music with the spirit of vast mountains of Norway, and a powerful offering of occult, folk inspired, nature worshiping black metal, in the vein of Darkthrone and Burzum. 1998’s groundbreaking album, Themes from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, had alienated many fans of the early heavier sound. This record was a musical homage to the famous book of the same name by author William Blake. It incorporated drum and bass, industrial, and very progressive electronic music to create a hybrid that few, if any have come close to replicating.
Also hailing from Finland, Ensiferum officially formed in 1996, and has been at the top of the folk metal genre since. Using melodies from distorted and clean acoustic guitars and keyboards, and a galloping drum, Ensiferum conjure up their own sound of sped up melodic black/ death metal. The band’s name translates from Latin to mean “sword bearing,” and lyrically, the songs and albums are odes to Nordic Mythology and oral tradition, many which are based on the conquests of heroic warriors on the battlefield. Arguably, the band’s most popular album, Iron (2004) is a slab of Viking metal akin to bands such as Bathory, Amon Amarth and Enslaved, along with beautiful traditional Finnish folk music. The band also covers the Metallica classic, ‘Battery’ on this album as well. After several lineup changes since the band formed, former guitarist/vocalist Jari Maenpaa, left Ensiferum in 2003 and formed the band Wintersun.
Bringing together the uncompromising black metal blast beats and wicked, shredding riffs of black metal, along with brutal vocals sung mostly in Swedish, Finland’s Finntroll has spent more than 15 years building a fan base. Taking equal parts Children of Bodom and Behemoth mixed with interludes of beautiful clean folk guitars, the blend of Finnish hoedown folk music makes for an interesting balance of menacing and melodic music. The music is rich with tales of good vs. evil, the mysteries of nature, mythical creatures known as trolls and heavy doses of Paganism. With numerous lineup changes over the years and six full-length studio albums (including 2013’s Blodsvept) Fintroll show no signs of slowing down.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 18, 2013